The use of God’s Word is akin to a sharpened two-edged sword (cf. Heb 4.12). Either it will cut you to the quick in a temporal sense; or, it will cut you to the quick in an eternal sense. In other words, one will find, when confronted with God’s whetted blade, that they readily confess on bended knee that Jesus Christ is Lord over all life, admitting they have sinned against Him in the here and now, or before the final judgment seat of God Almighty. For it is appointed that all men shall die and then face judgment (Heb 9.27), that is never in question, but the question does remain, “will it happen now before the axe falls, or after it has severed the root?” (cf. Matt 3.10; Luke 3.9).
Law and order…
Over my last two posts I started speaking on the subject of theonomy—God’s Law. My reasons for this is rather simple. Our current culture is severely fragmented. The old guard which has been dying the death of a thousand cuts, due to Christians continual compromise with the unbelieving culture. There is a call for “law and order” by many, but from what standard shall that “law and order” be drawn?
As I noted in my first post (That Dirty Word Called Theonomy), theonomy is a dirty (i.e., taboo) word or idea in many Christian circles. A part of me is still amazed that such is the case. And so, I raised the question in my second post (Saved from What to What?) as to how we are supposed to live after we have been delivered from our previous life of sin? Not just as individuals, but as families, as congregations, and even in the sociopolitical spheres of life. You became a Christian…now what?
Anything but a theonomic outlook. Anything but that. That is the response you will get by those that have an aversion to God’s Law-Word. Take for example Matt Slick founder of CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry). Here is what he has to say about theonomy (although he equates Christian Reconstruction with Theonomy)1:
“Christian Reconstructionism (also known as theonomy) is a highly controversial movement within some conservative Christian circles. It maintains that the world should be brought under (reconstructed) the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas: social, moral, political, judicial, military, family, art, education, music, etc. Christian Reconstructionism advocates the restoration of Old Testament civil and moral laws in order to reconstruct present American society into an Old Testament type Mosaic form and that the three main areas of society – family, church, government – should all be biblically modeled, the Bible being the sole standard. This would include severe punishments for lawbreakers. Some Christian reconstructionists would advocate death for adulterers, abortionists, idolaters, murderers, homosexuals, rapists, etc.”2
There are a few more items in Slick’s short article that I would like to address, but for the moment let us bask in his insight in this paragraph under the heading, “Teachings.” Minus the error in equating Christian Reconstruction with Theonomy (see note 1 below), Slick is correct that in “some…Christian circles” theonomic teaching is “highly controversial.” He is also right in pointing out that the desire of the Christian Reconstructionist is to apply Christ’s lordship to all areas of life.3 Unfortunately, though, Slick’s disdain for theonomic thinking begins to seep through as he tries to muddy the waters a bit with his large audience.
He says that theonomy is about restoring the Old Testament Mosaic system and applying it to American society. While it is true that theonomists are concerned about properly applying God’s standard of righteousness to all areas of life, it is not true that we desire to use a cut-and-paste style format.4 We are not trying to recreate ancient Israel. Nor is it accurate to say that theonomists are only concerned about American society. For as the biblical worldview pertains to the entire globe (the entire created order where mankind has been placed by their Creator) so too does the theonomic outlook contain in its vision of the entire world. All countries not just America are under the authority of Jesus Christ whether they recognize so or not.
Slick rightly identifies three of the four main spheres of governance5 that Christian Reconstructionist who teach theonomy believe should have the same standard of holiness applied as the Bible teaches. And yet, he quickly adds that this will “…include severe punishments for lawbreakers” with some who share a theonomic outlook “advocat[ing] death for adulterers, abortionists, idolaters, murders, homosexuals, rapists, etc.” I’m not sure Slick has taken the time to clearly think through what he is saying before he sat down to write it. Severe punishments for lawbreakers, including the death penalty, were authorized by whom? Moses was merely a mouthpiece. He repeated what had been handed down to him. These were not Moses’ laws, they are God’s. These are not Moses’ punishments, they are God’s.
When kicking is preferred...
This is where the “kicking against the goads” to use a KJV expression for our stubborn, stiff-necked stupidity is a useless, though highly practiced venture by the children of Adam, is appropriate. The Lord God is the author of those laws and punishments, is Slick then calling Him severe? Is Slick troubled by the death penalty (a maximum not necessarily required for every violation of the law, and one that could not be enforced without two or three witnesses) that God said was a just punishment for violating His Law-Word?
Slick is not alone. These types of comments are normative for those who cannot stand the thought of holding all people, in all societies, by the same holy standard.6 This, in spite of the fact that God calls the application of differing standards of judgment an abomination (see: Prov 20.10; Lev 24.22). Rather than God’s objective law, man’s subjective law is preferred (cf. Prov 18.2; Mark 7.6-9). This has been a handicap since the beginning. For rather than stating, “It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4.4; cf. Deut 8.1-3), the preferred response is “Did God actually say…” (Gen 3.1). Better a man to declare what the law is, for him we will listen to, than the law be given from the mouth of God (cf. John 5.43).7
Throughout his article Slick’s apparent distaste for theonomy as a Christian branch of theology is clearly seen. Calling it “an extremist Christian movement, not held by very many people,” he then proposes the following rhetorical question:
“The concern is that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral, and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?” (final par.).
Two things can be said about Slick’s closing thoughts (the comment about extremists and the rhetorical question of “who is to govern the governors?”). To follow Christ, to bring every thought captive to Him in every area of life, to take His Law as written, in context, deriving either its positive or negative application, or deriving the underlying principle behind it is what is required of all who profess a love of the Lord (John 14.15; 15.10; 1John 2.3-4; 5.3). This is not optional, although admittedly, it is considered radical by the world and those who are (perhaps unknowingly) influenced by it. As to the “who will govern the governors?” the answer is very simple—Jesus the Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. Laws are holy and good when used properly (1 Tim 1.8).
More will be said on this, but this seems a sufficient place to stop.
1Although there is no question that Christian Reconstruction and Theonomy are interrelated, they are not the same thing. This is a common misconception that I have noticed by the uninformed. Christian Reconstruction is related to the Dominion mandate (a.k.a., cultural mandate) of Genesis 1:26-28. Since mankind is God’s image bearers they are expected to exercise godly dominion over all the earth. The earth was made for mankind, just like the Sabbath (a day of rest) was given as a gift after six days of labor (coinciding with the biblical creation week; cf. Gen 1; Exod 20.11). It is an example of God’s delegated authority given to His earthly representatives. This command to “subdue the earth” has never been remitted. Rather we still see this delegated authority exercised in Scripture through God’s people. And, it is King Jesus who reaffirms it to His followers in Matthew 28:18-20. Theonomy on the other hand is the toolin the believer’s hand by which he/she has been enabled to exercise this godly dominion. First in their lives, and then in the lives around them. Therefore, Christian Reconstruction is the practice of reforming the world in which we live to properly image the Creator who made it all. Theonomy is one of the key tools that God has given so that we might be faithful to that end.
2 Slick, Matt. “Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy – CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry),” January 12, 2009, Accessed May 27, 2021. https://carm.org/christian-reconstructionism-theonomy/.
3I’m not sure how Slick sees this application of Christ’s lordship over all things, but the way the rest of the article reads it would appear that he is not convinced that such thinking is right or to be put into practice. However, I would merely offer that since Christ is Lord over all, and since all things owe their being to Him, as all things were created by Him and for Him (ff. Col 1.15-18), that the only logical conclusion one might draw when applying the biblical worldview consistently is that, as Christians, our goal ought to be to shape this world (at least our little niches or areas of influence) in a way that conforms to Christ’s thinking.
4Greg L. Bahnsen answers many of these sort of objections in his work, “By This Standard.” In it he is quick to point out that “We need to be sensitive to the fact that interpreting the Old Testament law, properly categorizing its details…and making modern day applications of the authoritative standards of the Old Testament is not an easy or simple task. It is not always readily apparent to us how to understand an Old Testament commandment or use it properly today. So the position taken here does not make everything in Christian ethics [i.e., theonomic outlook] a simple matter of looking up obvious answers in a code-book. Much hard thinking—exegetical and theological homework—is entailed by a commitment to the position advocated in these studies” (7).
However, Bahnsen does offer a strong caveat to the Christian who thinks of sidestepping God’s Law-Word, “If something was sinful in the Old Testament, it is likewise sinful in the age of the New Testament. Moral standards… do not fluctuate…When the Lord makes a moral judgment, He is not unsure of Himself, or tentative, or fickle. Unlike human lawmakers, God does not change His mind or alter His standards of righteousness…When the Lord speaks, His word stands firm forever. His standards of right and wrong do no tchange from age to age: ‘All His precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness’ (Ps. 111:7-8).” Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 37-38, PDF e-book.
5The one that Slick misses is “personal or individual governance.” As creatures we are accountable to the Lord above. God blesses and curses not just nations for how they behave, but the individuals who live in them. If a person fails to self govern properly in light of God’s revealed Word, then they are cursed (e.g., Judas Iscariot). However, if a person does govern themselves properly in relationship to God’s commands, then they are blessed by Him (e.g., Jesus Christ).
6Paul Copan in his book entitled “Is God a Moral Monster?” seems in my mind to be an excellent example of this type of thinking intimated by Slick. Copan argues that “…we shouldn’t see the law as the ideal standard for all humanity” (86). A little later he adds, “the Mosaic law is not permanent, universal, and the standard for all nations” (89). Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011).
Kyle D. Fedler conveys a similar strain of thought in stating a warning of the danger in assuming that “…all the Torah laws are still valid.” Kyle D. Fedler, Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 115.
This based on the premise that Christ removes the bondage one suffers under the law. But, we must not forget what that bondage was; it was the curse of sin. The bondage was not a righteous requirement, the righteous requirement that the law enforced upon humanity brought to bear our enslavement to sin, and so a curse was what we were held under until Christ set us free via our faith in Him. Fedler either fails to see this or allow this truth to shape his meaning.
7This is the problem that Jesus faced during His earthly ministry. It was not just what He did that offended the cultural elites (the supposed religious leaders/experts in the law), but what He said in regards to God’s Law. He gave the proper interpretation of it, showing it applicability over an above their own erroneous standards. If anything, Israel at the time of Jesus reveals what it looks like when man’s law is held on par with God’s own.